Two weeks ago I found myself deep in the throes of my September Period of Self-Loathing, also known as the period of time during which I go to the gym every day for a week straight and then completely forget that it exists for the rest of the semester. Panting on the Stairmaster and desperate to stay on until my time was up, I turned to the comfort of a classic Plex pastime: aggressive, unbridled people-watching. That was when I saw her: the girl my friends refer to as “BC Barbie.”
We all know someone like that. She has a perfect body, perfect hair, a perfect face and, it would seem, a perfect life altogether. You dread seeing her around campus, and you want to hate her, but you can’t because she’s also somehow a decent human being on top of being a perfect physical specimen.
In a world without Facebook, I might have envied BC Barbie for a few seconds, but ultimately would have shrugged my shoulders and thought: “Oh well. Can’t have it all.” However, since Facebook now permeates nearly every part of our lives, I picked up my iPhone and pulled up Barbie’s Facebook page. And after just a few minutes of flipping through her photos, I became inexplicably unhappy. In an instant I became dually self-conscious of both my un-toned thighs and my clearly unglamorous life. Prior to stalking this borderline stranger on Facebook, I had been happy with myself, but now not even the endorphins could rid me of this inexplicable feeling of inadequacy.
Stalking “perfect” Facebook friends really can make you feel inadequate.
“Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” This is the message many of us see daily when we log into the site, and for many people Facebook really is just that: a way to keep in touch with friends. However, for some people (including myself) it has become a source of unhappiness.
If you look at your Facebook newsfeed, most of what you’ll see (aside from the occasional political tirade) is overwhelmingly positive. Most of the photos posted by my Facebook friends show them perfectly coiffed and dressed to the nines, smiling and laughing at a party I suddenly wish I had made the effort to attend. Most status updates are announcements of exciting upcoming events or wonderful personal achievements. Nobody uses Facebook to post pictures of themselves when they’re tired, sad or hungover. Nobody uses Facebook to post a status when their mom gets sick or when a coveted employer rejects their job application. It’s easy to become convinced that our friends and peers are leading “perfect lives,” and that we are somehow failing to do so.
Women use Facebook more socially than men, who tend to use it politically.
Researchers at Stanford found that women are particularly susceptible to this kind of self-deprecation when it comes to Facebook, with a Slate.com article noting that “Women tend to use it [Facebook] to engage in personal communication… This may make it especially hard for women to avoid comparisons that make them miserable.” The same article points out that comparing your own level of happiness to the perceived level of happiness of Facebook friends is much like comparing your own body to an image of a photoshopped supermodel: unreasonable and unrealistic. No one’s body is as perfect as a computer program would make it look, and no one’s life is as perfect as a social networking platform would make it seem.
I once spent twenty-five minutes deeply stalking my roommate’s friend’s bunkmate from summer camp, and ultimately decided that her chin is, in fact, much cuter than mine. In no way was this a productive use of my time, and in no way can I be trusted to use Facebook to “keep in touch with friends.” During the past two weeks, I’ve limited myself to only checking Facebook once per day and for no more than ten minutes, and I have to admit that I feel noticeably happier. Maybe it’s kind of pathetic that I have to censor myself like this, but for me it’s been worth it. I think what’s important to remember is that no one is perfect, but Facebook would have us believe that almost everyone is.